Don’t try this at home folks. Unless you’re extremely well prepared. I believe I was and the project has had a happy outcome.
Just briefly, as I still don’t have an internet connection at home. Having arrived at Ibiza and made a new rudder I had a lovely cruise to Formentera, an idyllic island surrounded by impossibly turquoise waters. I returned to Ibiza to make some final preparations for my departure then, on Friday 26th sailed for the north of the island.
At 0400 on the morning of the 27th I set sail for the Columbrete Islands 65 miles northwest. This was a long, long open sea passage and I rowed about half the distance. I saw only one other ship on this passage and tried to contact it via the VHF but received no reply. I did, however, see plenty of dolphins.
The Columbretes are very small and it was with some relief that I finally saw them appear at sunset. I was still 15 miles off, which, with a failing breeze, put the islands about 6 hours away. The islands form a natural park and no anchoring is allowed, however several buoys have been set down in the natural harbour. I contacted the island’s park authorities by radio and was told that there were no buoys available. I could, however tie up to another boat. OB is too small to raft against a large boat and rowing round the anchorage it looked like there was no suitable boat to tie on to. Eventually I rafted up against someone’s dinghy after 22 hours on the water.
The next day demanded rest. I visited the island, snorkled and slept under an awning I’d rigged using the mizzen sail. In the evening the park guards kindly used their satellite phone to contact my family and let them know that I was planning on leaving at 0400 for the Spanish mainland.
I sailed north for the River Ebro Delta but with the dawn the wind failed. This was a difficult day, I rowed and rowed. At times I stopped to swim and, as I was swimming, I towed the boat behind me. Anything to gain a few metres. That day I covering 45 miles in 17 hours pulling the boat onto a beach on the south side of the Delta for the night.
The next morning I again set off at 0400 with no wind. But found that I hadn’t fully recovered from the day before. It wasn’t so much my arms and back that caused discomfort but the rubbing and chafing of salty clothing on skin. My bum was raw. After 6 hours and 12 miles I stopped on the tip off the Delta to eat and rest. There was no wind and to attempt the 23 mile passage across to Cap Salou without wind would have been foolhardy given that rowing had become so uncomfortable. After an hour’s sleep in the shade of the mainsail the wind began to fill in from the southeast. I set sail and crossed the Gulf of Sant Jordi. The wind came foul 5 miles from the cape and I had gruelling row up to Cala Cranc, (where I stayed 2 years ago) but suspecting it to be unsuitable with a southerly swell rowed on round the cape to anchor off the tourist hell of La Pineda, just beside the entrance to Tarragona harbour.
I left the next morning at the favoured hour of 0400 and rowed the 15 miles home. I seemed to find new strength and as long as I didn’t stop I could deal with my painful butt. I arrived home in time for a late breakfast though the only thing I could consider drinking was cold beer.
Open sea voyaging in a small boat is a very serious business. I have watched the tricky Mediterranean weather for years now and wouldn’t have wanted to make this trip at other time of year. The beginning of June may be unsettled but the solstice usually brings prevailing southerlies. I had more calms than I could have wished for but I also had plenty of fine following breezes that kept our overall average speed for the 280nm trip above 3 knots. I was physically well prepared and psychologically committed to make the trip a success.
I wouldn’t recommend this sort of trip for everyone and won’t say that at times I wasn’t extremely frightened (particularly when I was on land thinking of the journey ahead) but personally I found being in a small boat 30 miles from land with 1cm of plywood separating me from depths of 1300 metres fulfilling. The experience of spending hour after hour in absolute solitude at the centre of a blue disc under a pure blue dome is one that I will cherish.
I have material to make a short film of the journey, which will hopefully be on youtube by the beginning of August. And next week I’ll post some photos here.